Latino enrollment rises, graduation rates lag behind

Latinos, Chicanos and Mexican Americans comprise the largest ethnic group on the SF State campus. Combined, they make up nearly one-third of the student population. The majority of universities and colleges have shown increased enrollment across the country, but data shows graduation rates don’t rise as quickly as admission numbers do.

The University’s enrollment numbers are in line with the California population as a whole, where Latinos outnumbered non-Latino Whites in 2014. SF State annual admission data reflects an 11 percent increase in Latino, Chicano and Mexican American enrollment from 2010 to 2015.

The enrollment of Latino, Chicano, and Mexican American students at SFSU has risen over the past five years of enrollment. Jessylyn Los Banos

The enrollment of Latino, Chicano, and Mexican American students at SFSU has risen over the past five years of enrollment.

Guillermo Alejandro Murguia, SF State professor and Latino/Latina studies department chair, believes Latinos are still getting the short end of the stick, even at a higher performing Hispanic-serving Institutions such as SF State.

“Institutions haven’t kept up with this new demand,” Murguia said.

The Education Trust released findings of a 10-year study that examined enrollment and graduation trends for underrepresented minorities nationwide. During the period of 2003 to 2013, they note that the graduation rate gap between White and underrepresented students — defined as Latino, Black and Native American — decreased by nearly 9 percent, with Latinos graduating at a higher rate than the other two groups.

Murguia acknowledges the University’s high retention and graduation rates relative to the rest of the nation, but knows it’s not enough.

Improvements are positive but slow-moving and at the rate of change noted by the Education Trust, it would take into the next century to close the remaining 14-point graduation gap between White and underrepresented students nationally.

Despite the rising Latino student population, Murguia questions the equal distribution of support and resources for a group that contributes considerable tax revenue.

“We’ve paid into the system but it hasn’t served to educate the population,” Murguia said.

Natividad Rangel, a 20-year-old history major and web coordinator for Hermanos Unidos de SFSU sees it less as a lack of resources and more of a failure to make people aware that resources exist.

“Resources are not promoted enough and can go years without being used,” Rangel said. “It may simply be an issue of programs outreaching to students in a much more efficient way.”

Rangel has seen membership at Hermanos grow substantially since the chapter was founded in 2010.

“Our alumni are constantly surprised by the numbers that show up meeting after meeting,” Rangel said. “Now we average 30 to 40 members per meeting. Before, it was around a four person meeting.”

The organization is what Rangel refers to as a familia that focuses on the three pillars of academics, community service and social networking. Rangel says that Hermanos Unidos and their sister organization, Hermanas Unidas — established in 2012 — are simply Latino students helping themselves and their communities beyond what the school itself can offer.

Rangel believes the organizational support can especially help first-generation Latino students struggling with their new surroundings.

“Having jobs, being far away from home for the first time and adapting to college academics can be tough,” Rangel said. “We tend to find ourselves a bit lost.”

Elias Serrano, a 20-year-old SF State student and Hermanos community service chair, believes being a first-generation student has quite a bit to do with the low graduation rates.

“I think that a lot of times the burden of supporting the family at home falls onto the shoulders of my fellow first-generation students and most choose work over school,” Serrano said. “It’s a tragic truth.”

Serrano believes the best way to help future generations of Latino students is to send a clear message. “This whole college thing is attainable and that it’s a step in the direction our parents wanted to go when came here anyway,” Serrano said.

Networks like Hermanos and Hermanas may see more outside assistance for Latino students in the near future as SF State expects to receive their first Title V grant as a designated “Hispanic-Serving Institution.”

Murguia hopes the extra funding will be as helpful in practice as it is in theory. It is still uncertain whether the designation and funding will speed progress toward greater equality in college education and completion rates for Latino students at SF State.

But this is just one school in the nation and many are further behind in terms of Latino enrollment and graduation rates. Until that gap can be closed across the country, Murguia likens the situation to being a disadvantaged kid eating lunch at school.

“It’s like everybody else has a whole sandwich, and we only have half,” Murguia said.